Dire circumstances leave many people daunted or even crushed; the deck seems stacked against them. So what allows others who face comparable threats and traumas to survive and even thrive? This question underlies decades of resilience research and also burns in our own hearts as we try to find our way through an often rugged world.
Maria Konnikova, in her article in The New Yorker on "How People Learn to Become Resilient" (February 11, 2016), tells us that this research began by learning about the varied responses of children who were faced with obstacles, stress, and suffering. She writes about the groundbreaking work of Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota who worked with thousands of children over decades. One child stood out in his mind, she says:
"He was nine years old, with an alcoholic mother and an absent father. Each day, he would arrive at school with the exact same sandwich: two slices of bread with nothing in between. At home, there was no other food available, and no one to make any. Even so, Garmezy would later recall, the boy wanted to make sure that 'no one would feel pity for him and no one would know the ineptitude of his mother.' Each day, without fail, he would walk in with a smile on his face and a 'bread sandwich' tucked into his bag."
It turns out, as Konnikova puts it, that "stressful or traumatic events in and of themselves don’t have much predictive power when it comes to life outcomes."
What's exciting about this news is that it means we can develop the skill of resilience through practice. We can explore component skills that help anyone anywhere bounce back, and also look at specific skills helpful to populations most in need of special support like refugees, adult children of alcoholics, and soldiers suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As you will see as you begin to explore the resources we've gathered for you, skills that we can build to strengthen resilience include:
Having a moral compass
Using mental energy wisely
Finding role models of resilience
Learning to handle strong feelings
Changing the narrative
Tolerating pain for a greater purpose
Accepting full responsibility for your life
Caring for others
Appreciating and developing humor
To learn more, we invite you to take your time browsing through the icons on this page. They lead you to articles, books, book excerpts, children's books, e-courses, films, poetry, practices, quotes, and other resources that can foster resilience in you, your family, and even our institutions, communities, and cities. Resilience, you will discover, is nothing short of life-changing.